Thai up the loose ends

Cynthia Stone
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It’s easy to achieve an exotic note with the addition of a Thai flavour to just about any recipe in your collection. Over the years, I’ve shared my Thai versions of everything from roast turkey to noodle salad, so I thought I’d bring some of those ideas together today and share an eastern menu that is both delicious and accessible.

Pad Thai

Since you can buy this at the local mall, I assume what used to be nothing more than a curious foreign street food is making its way into your kitchens. I’ve tried many versions, because I am such a fan, and I’ve made every conceivable substitution. This recipe is foolproof, but if you make the effort to pick up a couple of the more evocative ingredients, you will be delighted with the outcome. The sauce can be made days in advance, keeping perfectly in the fridge. You can buy prepared, bottled tamarind now in several local specialty shops; it’s an essential flavour in many cuisines, but you can substitute in a pinch. Simmer 1/3 cup chopped dates in 1/2 cup hot water until soft, then add 2 tbsp. lemon juice and mash together or puree. Do pick up a small bottle of fish sauce — find it in the import sections of any big grocery store — and the bottled Thai chili sauce will be something you go back to again and again. Serves 6.


1/2 cup bottled prepared tamarind

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup fish sauce

1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tsp. hot Thai chili sauce (or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes)

Pad Thai:

1 package Thai-style rice noodles, sometimes labelled rice sticks

3 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into small thin strips

6 large or 12 medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (raw if at all possible)

1 block firm tofu, cubed about the same size as the chicken

3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced

2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

1/4 cup finely chopped toasted peanuts (unsalted)

2 green onions, chopped

1 small bag bean sprouts, rinsed and well drained

1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)

Chili sauce, more chopped peanuts, and lime wedges for serving

For the sauce, combine ingredients in a small pot and simmer 15 minutes; set aside. Soak rice noodles according to package instructions. Add oil to wok or large heavy pot and stir-fry chicken for 3 or 4 minutes, until well browned and nearly cooked through. Add shrimp, tofu and garlic and cook until shrimp are pink. Stir in about half the recipe of sauce and the well-drained noodles. Stir vigorously to prevent clumping. Push everything to the sides and pour eggs in the middle. After the eggs have started to set, stir them around so they are like large-curd scrambled eggs. Stir in peanuts, green onions, bean sprouts and cilantro and heat through. Pass around the chili sauce, peanuts and lime wedges.

Thai Stirfry (Times 2)

One of my nieces is going away to school in the fall and she and I got together recently to try a couple of dishes that she would like to be able to make for herself when she’s not so close to home. She complained that she can’t get everything in a stirfry to come together at the same moment — the meat is overdone or the vegetables are mushy. Preparation and timing are the solutions. Get absolutely everything ready to go into the wok before you start. Feel free to substitute any vegetables you like. The first version is quick and easy, with a reasonable calorie count. The second is that rich, creamy mixture that you know just by looking at it will be fabulous. Each of these serves about 4.


1/4 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

1 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar

1 tbsp. each soy sauce and fish sauce (or 2 tbsp. soy sauce)

1 clove garlic, mince

1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

1/2 tsp. hot Thai chili sauce (more or less to taste)

juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup hot water

Beef Stirfry:

1 lb. lean beef, cut into the thinnest strips possible

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil (divided)

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms

1 carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 bok choy, coarsely chopped (or 4 baby bok choy, quartered)

1 cup whole corn kernels (thawed if frozen)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped unsalted cashews

2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare the sauce first. Stir together peanut butter, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, sesame oil and chili sauce. Whisk in lime juice and hot water — it won’t seem to be combining at first, but stick with it; set aside. Toss beef with salt and pepper and fry on high heat in a wok or large pot in about 1 tbsp. of the oil. Beef doesn’t have to be cooked through, so remove as soon as it is well browned and set aside. Add onion, mushrooms and carrot, along with remaining oil, and fry until starting to brown. Add bok choy and corn and cook together about 2 minutes, just until the leaves are wilted. Return beef, then stir in cashews, cilantro and prepared sauce and heat through; serve.


1/2 cup canned coconut milk (liquid part only)

3 tbsp. lime juice

2 tbsp. fish sauce

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. hot Thai chili sauce

Chicken Coconut Stirfry:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips

2 tbsp. solid coconut fat from the top of the canned milk, divided

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 cups snow peas

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 thumb-sized piece gingerroot, minced

2 fresh Thai bird chilis, seeded and minced (more or less to taste)

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn into pieces

2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk together the sauce ingredients to dissolve sugar completely. Stir 1 tbsp. of the sauce mixture into the chicken and refrigerate about 10 minutes. In a wok or large pot, fry chicken in about half the coconut oil until brown but not quite cooked through. Add remaining oil and onion and cook 2 minutes. Add snow peas, red pepper, garlic, ginger and chilis and cook together another 3 minutes, until vegetables are starting to cook but are still crisp, and chicken is cooked through. Add sauce, cover and simmer a couple of minutes, until steaming hot. Stir in basil and cilantro and serve with jasmine rice or noodles.


Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, N.L., A1E 4N1.

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